I find inspiration for my editorials in all sorts of places. This month’s topic came to me from a list of strange holidays, where I came across September 6, Fight Procrastination Day. You might expect this in the October issue, or later, given the nature of the celebration. By covering it now, I’m doing my part to fight procrastination.
Procrastination is the subject of much research and numerous publications, from scientific papers to self-help books and websites. You might think that such a vast amount of material on a subject would make it easy to write a mere 600 words on the topic. Alas, it turns out that this vast amount of material just makes reading about procrastination a very good way to put off writing my editorial.
Wikipedia defines procrastination as “the practice of carrying out less-urgent tasks in preference to more-urgent ones, or doing more-pleasurable things in place of less-pleasurable ones, and thus putting off impending tasks to a later time, sometimes to the ‘last minute’ before a deadline.” My online search for “procrastination” got 12 million hits. If surfing the web is your preferred procrastination technique, this might be all you need for the rest of your life. By adding the word “overcoming,” I narrowed it down to 277,000 (still plenty to keep me busy for quite a while). Some of the tips we have heard many times: remove distractions, eliminate interruptions, check your email only once an hour, break down large projects into smaller tasks and tackle one thing at a time, eliminate low-priority items from your to-do list, delegate what you can, and so on. I did, however, learn a few new tricks and twists that I might try.
Prioritize one thing each day. Write out the tasks that are causing you the most stress. To identify your top priority, ask about each task, “If this were the only thing I accomplished today, would I be satisfied with my day?”
Start a “done list.” At the end of each day, write down what you’ve accomplished. This will help you realize how efficiently you’re working and where you can improve.
Do nothing (else). Authors Roy Baumeister and John Tierney call this the Nothing Principle — to get yourself to do something, make the alternative to that task to do nothing. Writer Raymond Chandler sets aside at least four hours each day for writing with two simple rules: (1) You don’t have to write. (2) If you’re not going to write, you can’t do anything else. Chandler likens this to keeping order in school: “If you make the pupils behave, they will learn something just to keep from being bored.
Reframe your sense of time. Researchers Daphna Oyserman of the Univ.of Southern California and Neil Lewis Jr. of the Univ. of Michigan found that people who were asked to start saving for a newborn to begin college in 18 years took four times longer to start saving than those who were told the money would be needed 6,570 days in the future. “If you see it as ‘today’ rather than on your calendar for sometime in the future, you’re not going to put it off. Through this shift in time metrics, people can motivate themselves to accomplish their goals,” Oyserman says.
I hope you read my editorials because you find them interesting, stimulating, and fun to read, not just as a way to procrastinate reading the more-technical material in the issue. With our biennial salary survey starting on p. 15, that’s probably not the case this month.
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